How to Hack a Photographer’s Style

Wouldn’t it be nice to spend a day shooting like your favourite photographer? Read these secret hacks to understanding a photographer’s style.

Disclaimer – Before we begin, we want to start off by saying that we aren’t attempting to rip off, infringe or oversimplify another photographer’s work.

We know how hard it is being a professional photographer. Therefore, the last thing we want to do is cheat hard working, talented people out of their living.

Instead, what we are going to explore today is how to break down a photograph. And try to emulate it using our own camera and lighting. If you have a favourite photographer and would love to aspire to their style, then these tips will help you out.

For a new photographer, these tips will also help you ‘read’ an image and understand how it was taken. To make it easier to understand we’re going to take a couple of our own favourite pictures and discuss as many elements as we can so you can understand how to deconstruct your faves.

Hack 1: Kurt Cobain by Michael Linssen (1991)

This image is candid and captures Cobain in an isolated moment. Given the age and grainy detail of the picture, straight away we know it’s shot on film. The black and white finish looks crisp and well defined which suggests it was shot on black and white film and not converted into colour.

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Along the edges of Cobain’s leather jacket, you can see specular highlights from a light off screen. There must also be a light shining from the left-hand side to illuminate the face, backed up by the shadows around his jaw and neck.

It suggests that both lights are high up and probably just ambient lighting in the studio.

So already we know the Linssen likes to shoot candid portraits using black and white film filled with ambient light. That’s a lot learnt already. But there’s more…

Can you see the wire dangling across the frame on the right-hand side? It may seem distracting, but it tells us 2 things:

Kurt Cobain by Michael Linssen (1991)

Thing 1

Linssen shot instinctively and didn’t have time to get in to the ‘perfect’ position. Therefore, he doesn’t pose his subjects.

Thing 2

He chose not to edit it out afterwards meaning he obviously likes it. Therefore, it’s part of his style.

Hack 2: The Way Home by Tom Hunter

Tom Hunter’s uncompromising portrait is another favourite of ours for his is a seemingly incidental photograph. Hunter’s image entitled ‘The Way Home’ straight away has a number of characteristics that builds up an impression that we can hack. Let’s look at them point-by-point:

Point 1

The image is close to a 5:4 crop ratio which is rare in digital photography and more closely associated with medium/large format cameras.

Therefore, providing it’s not been cropped afterwards, it suggests he works on film.

Point 2

The crop doesn’t conform to any traditional compositional teachings. Though the subject is positioned in the lower third there are no striking elements on the power points.

It creates the idea that composition is not vitally important to his work.

Tom Hunter The Way Home
Tom Hunter The Way Home

Point 3

The horizon isn’t straight. Purposely overlooking constructs like this reaffirms that Hunter doesn’t want it to be technically sound, therefore content must be more important to him than composition.

Point 4

The subject’s position in the frame is deliberate. If she looks insignificant or accidentally in the picture (like a quickly taken picture), maybe it’s a suggestion of how he feels. Is he telling us that he feels insignificant and hidden under the brambles? Is the subject a representation of him?

The connection between a photograph and the photographer should never be underestimated.

It leads us to suggest what the story is behind the photograph. Though every photograph will tell a different tale, you can see Hunter leans towards darker themes, industrial settings, sad situations creating heartfelt reactions. The title ‘The Way Home’ connotes that the subject is in this position for a reason. Maybe by their own doing? Again, these dark overtones contribute to Hunter’s style as a storyteller and not a technical maestro of the camera.

Hack 3: El Born by David Rodriguez

El Born is a residential district of Barcelona, a city known for its colour and energy which is perfectly represented by Rodriguez’s photograph. The shot is vibrant and rich in detail. He uses a HDR or stacking type effect to bring out the textures. HDR editing should only really be used to exploit different textures in the right situation such as this.

This approach could also mimic the various stories ongoing in the photo. We can see two youths with a skateboard in the foreground contrasting against the older couple walking away in the background.

In terms of composition, the narrow alleyway forces our eyes towards the distance causing us to see different stories on our way through. Rodriguez seems to like using camera composition and editing to tell a story. As opposed to working with a single subject.

Some may see this shot, with all the different colours and textures, as distracting and messy without a central character. But in truth, urban photography such as this, is about living in the moment and not waiting for something truly unique.

The small interactions, juxtaposition of lives and various characters make the shot more genuine and not staged. Rodriguez frames the energy of the story through his editing which draws us in further to inspect the finer details.

El Born by David Rodriguez

Show us your Hacks

Hacking one picture creates a fast impression of a photographer’s style, but to get a truer reflection, look at a body of their work instead. A photographer with a good sense of direction and style will be easy to hack. You’ll see repetitive themes, constant lighting techniques, uses of certain colours etc., this will help you in your emulation.

If you’ve ever embarked on a style hack like this then please let us know how you got on and your results too. If you’re an iPhotography member, then upload it to the gallery so we can check it out. If you aren’t then tag us on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and Instagram.

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